Our workplaces are more diverse than ever before. They are home to a collective of individuals with their own experiences, beliefs, ideas, positives and negatives.
The best managers get the best out of their teams by motivating them, inspiring them and encouraging them to explore and grow. But I firmly believe that there is one thing that can be easily overlooked that is key to helping our people be the best they can be.
We all get so bombarded with information every day, via social media, marketing and news, that I worry that the art of really listening is being lost. There's a trend towards information having to be quickly delivered, bite-sized and bulleted, rather than being detailed, heard, considered and responded to. The very best business leaders actively listen to their staff and, crucially, they take what they hear into account when it comes to their decision-making.
Are you regularly sitting down with your team, one-to-one or as a whole, to pick their brains and let them offer you some insight? I can pretty much guarantee they'll flag all sorts of ideas and opinions to positively impact your overall team performance. Why not tap into the expertise that's all around you?
In my business, we regularly use an online system to send out staff surveys to take the temperature of the team. That's just one way to listen--it's important to keep listening day in, day out.
Here are four tricks I've discovered to make you a better listener:
1. Open your door.
An open-door policy is a great start to becoming a better listener. Make sure your team members know they can drop in and chat through ideas and concerns with you.
Sit next to them rather than sitting on opposite sides of a desk for a discussion. Not having a desk between you will put people at ease and make the conversation less formal. Be sure to ignore any distractions from phones and emails, to illustrate that you're taking the discussion seriously.
2. Ask open questions.
Trying to discuss an issue via email can lead to misinterpretation and confusion. As much as possible, choose to talk face to face rather than batting emails back and forth. A personal approach demonstrates you're interested in the person and their opinions.
Also, asking open questions that encourage conversation will get you to the heart of the discussion--you'll have a more meaningful conversation.
.Asking questions such as, "I've noticed you seem a little frustrated recently, how can we best use your skills to improve things here?" or "I'm keen to hear your thoughts on the challenges coming up this quarter, how do you think we can deal with them?" Open-ended questions are those which require more thought and more than a simple one-word answer
Keeping regular eye contact demonstrates that you're focused on the conversation. It's also really useful to repeat back what you're hearing, to confirm your understanding and demonstrate that you've been listening.
Above all, don't force your own opinions into the conversation. Instead, strive to be non-judgemental and take all opinions on board--even if you don't agree with them.
3. Look for non-verbal cues.
Keep your eyes open. Non-verbal cues can also speak volumes, and you need to be aware of them.
If someone's personality or body language changes, sit down with that person and chat about it. Let them know that you've noticed, and that you're here to help.
Discussing what's on their mind sooner rather than later can often help stop small problems from becoming major concerns. Plus, it shows empathy that will be valued if the problem is a family matter, and will help to build trust and respect in your working relationships
4. Be proactive and seek opinions.
Take time to proactively find out what your team members think about your business and their roles within it, whether good and bad. Discuss how they think things can improve. If you learn from their expertise and experience you'll be rewarded with better performance and morale, and greater loyalty.
Too many great ideas never see the light of day because staffers think that nobody's listening. Invest time and energy into it. You'll be surprised by what you hear.